Now, I know she was trying to be complimentary. I know that she's used to working with people who have had injuries, strokes, or surgeries, who may look fit but actually be quite weak. I know that my damage was minimal to begin with and I didn't need a lot of time to heal, I hadn't lost my strength. My head knows these things.
But what I heard was "you don't look like a strong girl."
Right. Because I'm fat.
I wanted to tell her that I flipped a tractor tire this summer. That just a few days ago I squatted with the most weight on my shoulders I have tried yet. That of COURSE I'm strong, it's what I've been working on for half a year. But it wouldn't matter. I'd already changed her mind because she had felt my strength. Still, the assumption had been made. And the lesson was hammered home for me, once again, about the dangers of judging books by their covers. Or people by their bodies.
You Just. Can't. Tell.
You can't tell from looking at someone what they ate for breakfast. You don't know how strong someone is, even if you can see their muscles popping. You don't know whether the skinny person you're so jealous of is actually quite ill, whether they'd give anything to be back to their previous weight if it meant they were healthy. You can't tell from a glance whether the overweight person at the checkout next to you is actually as lazy as you assume, or if they have chronic pain that prevents them from moving in ways you take for granted. You don't know whether someone has gained weight and is feeling ashamed, or whether they've lost weight and are feeling amazing, even if they are the exact same size because you generally don't know where someone has started from. You can't tell how often someone goes to the gym or whether it's their first time there. You can't tell what someone's cholesterol or blood glucose levels are just by looking. You can't tell how healthy a person is, or how strong.
The only thing you can tell by looking at a person's body is how much fat they carry. That's it.
Yet we associate how a body looks with an imagined story about that person's health.
In one glance, we create an entire back story about their character, their value, their daily routines, their knowledge, their skills, their choices - all based on their body.
We judge. I'm guilty of it, too. It's nearly impossible not to.
The danger in judging others without knowing their story, aside from the risk of turning into a first class jerk, is that we often internalize those judgements. Sometimes, we put positive assumptions onto other people and measure ourselves against them. That buff lady at the gym who does bicep curls every day? I don't know that she's doing them right, why she feels compelled to be there so often, if she's training for a competition or a bored housewife trying to distract herself from a bad marriage. I don't see the numbers on the weights to even know how much she's lifting, pressing, and curling. All I see is someone skinnier, prettier, and buffer than me, and I think "wow, she's so much better than I am."
I judge. But I judge myself against other people.
Back in my Weight Watchers days, when I'd eat the zero point cabbage soup to "bank" my points for a treat later on, I was walking outside on a summer day off, enjoying an ice cream cone that I had been looking forward to all week. A stranger walking past me said out loud, "you don't need that ice cream cone." I was stunned. I mean, I knew my back story. I knew what the treat meant to me, what I'd given up earlier in the week so that I could eat it. He had no idea how many cones I'd had that day, that week, that month. He just saw a fat girl eating ice cream in public and felt he had the right to say something about it.
The danger in judging others, even if we're polite enough to keep it to ourselves, is that it still impacts us and how we measure ourselves against others. The danger in health care practitioners making assumptions, is that sometimes people don't get adequate care. The whole physio comment came about because she had me doing some stretches and pulls with a green Theraband. I did them too easily. She shortened the band. Again, too easy. "Hmmm. We might have to go to blue." We did. Again, too easy. That's when she showed her surprise at how strong I was. "What colour have you been using this whole week?" she asked. I told her green, because that's what she had given me last week. It was the only option I had. So ... the exercises I had been doing all week: they were ineffective? I won't even go into how inappropriate it is for her to measure patients against herself, with her "you're even stronger than ME!" comments. I don't know what she does, or how strong she thinks she is. But it's not a very accurate or neutral way to assess or measure strength, now is it?
Ultimately, we have all been judged and will continue to judge. The trick is to catch yourself doing it.
I have to work on not measuring myself against everyone else.
I have to work on not making the assumptions in the first place.
I have to work on not letting comments like this get to me.
I will get there eventually.
After all, I am much stronger than I look.